Josh Bonifay: His baseball life from batboy to the front office ("1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast)

Josh Bonifay: His baseball life from batboy to the front office ("1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - When Josh Bonifay enrolled in class at UNC Wilmington in 1996, he fit right in with the other students on campus. He had just graduated from T.S. Roberson High School in Asheville and earned a scholarship to play baseball for Head Coach Mark Scalf’s Seahawks.

Josh left UNCW after his junior season when the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 24th round of the baseball amateur draft. After eight seasons in the minor leagues, injuries brought an end to Josh’s dream of playing major league baseball. That’s when the 28-year-old became a Seahawk for the second time, and regularly found himself the oldest student in the class.

“Going back to school was extremely difficult,” Josh said about completing his degree in Business Management. “Taking almost nine years off. Not knowing anybody at school, and working my way back through, I think I had 42 hours left to finish. That was tough, but I absolutely loved going back to Wilmington, spending a year and a half back where I went to school and finishing up.”

After graduating from UNCW in 2008, Josh went right back into baseball. He is now the Director of Player Development for the Philadelphia Phillies, overseeing the franchise’s system of minor league players, coaches and managers.

Josh Bonifay was born into a baseball family. His grandfather Bob was the General Manager of several minor league teams in cities that include Knoxville, Jacksonville, Macon and Augusta. Josh’s uncle Brannon played and managed in the minor leagues. Cam Bonifay, Josh’s father, set several records as a third baseman at Georgia Tech and played in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor system before moving into scouting and coaching. Josh’s earliest baseball memories are from the time when his father became an assistant coach with the Yellow Jackets in 1985.

“I remember being out on the field with my Dad at Georgia Tech when he was an assistant baseball coach,” Josh said. “I remember going to camps with him. I also remember going to tryout camps with him when he was a scout for the Cincinnati Reds. Being able to be the batboy. Being able to be in the clubhouse. There’s a lot of tremendous baseball memories that I have, and been very fortunate, just because of my father and who he was.”

Those opportunities grew in 1990 when Cam Bonifay became the Director of Scouting for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The family moved to Pennsylvania, and Cam’s baseball-loving son had the chance to watch and learn from stars like Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla. Josh talks about it at 7:30 of the podcast.

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“Watching all these tremendous players hit in the early 90s for Pittsburgh,” he remembers. “I was taking ground balls with (third baseman) Jay Bell during spring training, and working with all these players, which was phenomenal and a childhood dream. You just listen to them, you pay attention to what they do, you pay attention to their actions, and you try to emulate them to a certain extent when you’re that young because you want to be just like them.”

Check out the story of Josh winning ten dollars from former all-star, Most Valuable Player and World Series champion David Justice at 9:20 of the podcast.

Josh attended T.S. Roberson High School in Asheville while living with his Mom. In December of his junior year, while attending a hitting camp at Georgia Tech, he struck up a conversation with one of the coaches, Mark Scalf, who had taken over the UNC Wilmington program a few years earlier. It’s a relationship the two men still share today.

“I kept in touch with him, and I saw him again my senior year at the same hitting camp,” Josh said. “We really connected. Coach Scalf asked if I wanted to come visit UNCW, and I was all in. As soon as I landed on campus, I loved it.”

Josh joined the Seahawks’ program in 1996, playing in his freshman and junior years (injuries kept him off the field in 1998). In the 1999 season, the baseball team won more games than it lost (30-26) for the first time in four years. That began an incredible streak of the Seahawks finishing above .500 for 21 consecutive seasons under Coach Scalf. But to Josh Bonifay, Mark Scalf is much more than a baseball coach. He got emotional talking about his mentor starting at 16:20 of the podcast.

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“He’s a second father to me,” Josh said. “At times I get choked up talking about him, but he meant the world to me. My Dad was in Pittsburgh, I went to UNCW. He is an incredible human, first and foremost. He is a phenomenal person. He loves his players and he shows them compassion, he shows them love, he shows them toughness, he builds the strength for them to endure struggles. He is just a phenomenal role model, teacher of the game of baseball, incredible person in the community, on and off the field. To this day, I still talk to him on the phone, share my life stories with him, ask for advice. If there’s anywhere I go and get hired, he’s one of the first people I call. He is that person for me in the game of baseball.”

Cam Bonifay was the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates when the team drafted his son in 1999. Josh began to pursue his dream of playing in the majors with the first minor league assignment, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Josh talks about those first days at 22:00 of the podcast.

Being the GM’s son brought along its’ own set of pressures, which the young infielder learned to deal with.

“It was very tough to play as the GM’s son, but you learn how to block that out,” he says. “You just know you have to work harder than anybody else. You know you have to perform better than anybody else, to get rid of that tag. I was prepared for it. Coach Scalf prepared me for it.”

After six different stops over eight minor league seasons, shoulder injuries led to Josh being released by the Houston Astros organization. In the podcast, he remembers that day, the emotional conversation with his father on the ride back to Wilmington, and the decision to continue the family tradition and finish his education. Josh Bonifay graduated with honors in 2008.

Josh rejoined the Pirates organization as a coach in Hickory, North Carolina, and after three seasons became a Minor League Hitting Coach with the Houston Astros. In 2013, he got his first managing job with the club’s rookie-level team in Greenville, South Carolina. Josh won two ‘Manager of the Year’ awards in the next four seasons (2013, 2015), becoming the first former UNCW player to manage on the professional level.

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“I knew that was something I wanted to do,” he says about managing. “I wasn’t sure I would ever get there. There are a limited number of jobs in terms of managing in professional baseball.”

Josh spent 2017 with the Texas Rangers organization as Major League Field Coordinator and went back to Houston as Minor League Coordinator in 2018. Following that season, the Philadelphia Phillies offered Josh the opportunity to become the Director of Player Development, responsible for overseeing the club’s entire minor league system. Josh talked about getting the phone call about the job while out on an anniversary dinner with his wife Tiffany at 28:40 of the podcast.

“I thought long and hard about it,” he recalls about taking a management role with the storied franchise. “I did some praying about it, and ultimately got to the decision where I said ‘yes’. I’m so very thankful that I did make that decision because I love this job even more than my last job. It’s pretty incredible to be in a leadership role.”

“Over the past several weeks, we interviewed an impressive group of candidates for this position,” Phillies General Manager Matt Klentak said in a statement on MLB.com announcing Josh’s hiring in October. “Josh really stood out with his combination of leadership, experience and passion for developing players. We believe he is the ideal person to lead our player development efforts, and we are thrilled to welcome him to Philadelphia.”

Along with his new job with the Phillies, Josh and Tiffany are going to welcome a baby boy to the family soon. They have two daughters, four-year-old Cora and two-year-old Caroline. I hope you enjoy this conversation and getting to know this dedicated baseball and family man as much as I did.

You can hear my full interview with Josh Bonifay, former UNCW baseball star and current Director of Player Development for the Philadelphia Phillies, by clicking on any of the links below.

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